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Literature / Jennifer the Jerk Is Missing

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That kid's driving me nuts! I'm restraining myself all the time! I keep wanting to bust her in the chops every time she opens that big mouth of hers!

Jennifer-the-Jerk Is Missing is a children's novel by Carol Gorman. Thirteen-year-old Amy Whipple is baby-sitting Malcolm Wylie, an 8-year-old prone to telling tall tales. So naturally, she doesn't believe him when he claims that he saw the kidnapping of a bratty 8-year-old classmate, Jennifer Smith, known also as Jennifer-the-Jerk. Malcolm insists on proving it, but unfortunately, everything he says sounds very improbable, and his story keeps changing some of the details. The kidnappers' notes written with childlike handwriting don't help, as Malcolm could have written them himself. And a Jennifer Smith actually did arrive at the camp that Jennifer-the-Jerk is supposed to be away at. Amy and Malcolm's attempts to get their parents' help only gets them in trouble for telling tall tales, and the cops don't believe them either due to Malcolm's past and their spotty evidence.

Once she sees the kidnappers themselves, however, Amy realizes that Malcolm is indeed telling the truth. Now, with no help from the cynical adults, Amy tries to rescue Jennifer with Malcolm's help, as they chase after the kidnappers on a moped, driven by Malcolm. Once Amy and Malcolm reach the kidnappers' house, they find both Jennifer and Clifford, the limo driver hired to take her to the camp, who was taken prisoner as well.

The first half of the book is very suspenseful, which is why what happens next is totally unexpected.

Tied to a chair and gagged, Jennifer is so bratty that she mocks Amy and Malcolm's first rescue attempt under her gag, leaving a pretty bad first impression that doesn't get much better. Once freed, Jennifer constantly makes fun of Malcolm, frequently insults Amy and Malcolm's rescue plans, repeatedly tells Amy unflattering facts about Malcolm, makes fun of Clifford (who was knocked on the head when kidnapped, and is acting silly as a result), complains about everything she can, and acts like a colossal brat to the Nth degree. She's so ungrateful for their help that she outright refuses to cooperate and says so — "I didn't ask for your help, anyway." Plus, she and Malcolm quickly take to bickering and making fun of each other.

As for the kidnappers, they're whiny, cartoonishly argumentative, and stupid (which explains the childlike handwriting on the ransom notes — the kidnappers themselves have terrible handwriting). Even their threat level is questionable: one even points a finger through his pocket to pretend he has a gun. Even Jennifer, though still scared of him, suspects he isn't really armed. The sudden increase in humor and change of mood comes totally unexpected, transforming a suspense story with tidbits of humor into a silly comedy that still has suspense.

Eventually, Amy is able to thwart the kidnappers and escape, rescuing Jennifer along the way. And in the end, Jennifer's bratty personality does not change. You're welcome, Jennifer.

This book contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Justified in that they don't believe Malcolm due to his overactive imagination, nor Amy for "falling for" it. Even the police refuse to help, saying they don't believe anything Malcolm says, due to his past. And when they do reach Jennifer and her kidnapped limo driver, Clifford, he turns out to be useless because he was bonked on the head so hard during his kidnapping that he's been knocked silly and is acting like a Cloud Cuckoolander.
  • Blackmail: How Malcolm persuades Amy to finally go with him to try to rescue Jennifer. Would he call the boy Amy has a crush on? Yes, he would, and Amy has to stop the call before he can say anything.
  • Bound and Gagged: Happens to Jennifer, then later Amy, Malcolm and Clifford, the driver originally hired to take Jennifer to camp. At one point, all four of them are left tied up overnight.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Malcolm and Jennifer. Malcolm is quite the brat as he asserts his independence and claims he's going to do what he wants to do whether Amy likes it or not. He becomes more sympathetic over the course of the story, but then we meet Jennifer...
  • Crying Wolf: Malcolm's history. The cops don't believe his story when Amy takes him to the station to report Jennifer's kidnapping, due to his reputation for reporting horrible crimes that turned out to be simple misunderstandings.
  • Freudian Excuse: Malcolm's brattiness and paranoia may or may not be caused by the death of his older brother three years ago. Malcolm even had to see a shrink for a year. Amy takes pity on him for this, and wonders if this had any effect on making him the way he is.
  • Harmless Villain: Yes and no. They did kidnap a kid and her driver, but on the other hand, these kidnappers are pretty easy to foil. The "pretend your finger in your pocket is a gun" thing takes the cake. Also, who would be dumb enough to make your kidnap victim cook a meal for you?
  • Kid Detective: Amy and Malcolm have to do actual investigating and asking questions to find out whether Jennifer really was kidnapped or not, and they have to do some spying to find out who could have done it.
  • Kid Hero: Thirteen-year-old Amy and 8-year-old Malcolm.
  • Lethal Chef: Let's just say that kidnappers shouldn't force their prisoners to cook food for them. Although Amy is actually upset since she didn't literally mean to poison the guy.
  • Mood Whiplash: Midway through the book. Just when things are heating up, they suddenly get silly. The suspense remains, and even increases, but the book pretty much becomes a comedy.
  • Non Sequitur, *Thud*: Clifford acts loopy for a long time as a result of having been knocked out by the kidnappers via a Tap on the Head, and essentially turns into a Useless Adult as a result. Jennifer of course makes fun of him for this.
  • Pity the Kidnapper: Even tied up, Jennifer is a nuisance to her captors, prompting the quote at the top of the page.
  • Rich Bitch: Jennifer, easily. "Jennifer-the-Jerk" is the nickname her classmates gave her, for good reason.
  • Sarcasm Failure: Jennifer has one when one of the kidnappers actually threatens to hurt her.
  • Sibling Rivalry: The kidnappers are brothers. They don't get along. And they even bring up their childhoods when arguing with each other.
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness vs. Seriousness: Probably the only book to start mostly on the serious end of the scale, then at one point quickly slide to the silly side and stay there. The suspense remains even while it's being silly.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: When Amy calls the camp Jennifer is supposed to arrive at to see if she was actually kidnapped, she's told that not only did a kid named Jennifer Smith arrive, but she's very sweet and likable. This instantly tips Malcolm off to the fact that it's not the same Jennifer Smith as the one they're looking for — Jennifer-the-Jerk Smith is a rude spoiled brat.
  • Spoiled Brat: Jennifer, of course. She expects too much even of her captors.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Brave babysitter Amy and Spoiled Brat Damsel in Distress Jennifer, respectively.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: No thanks from Jennifer for being rescued, and she's quick to insult her rescuers.
    Jennifer: Oh, yuck! Malcolm Wylie, what are you doing here? I was hoping to be rescued by some handsome cop or maybe a federal agent or something.
    Malcolm: (pulls gag back up and turns to Amy) See why I hate her?
  • Volleying Insults: Don't put Jennifer and Malcolm in the same room together, unless Jennifer is bound and gagged.
  • We Need to Get Proof: The first half of the book. Unfortunately, no-one believes the proof, so they abandon that step and just go for the rescue themselves.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Malcolm's vocabulary is advanced for his age, as are some of the things he says, though he Hand Waves this by saying that he's smart for his age. Oh yeah, and he knows how to drive a moped. His explanation was that he drove it all the time at the farm, but he still gets to keep it at home.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Malcolm's cry to Amy, then hers to her parents and the police once she's convinced. Unfortunately, no-one does believe them.